Last weekend saw one of the great events in the sporting calendar, golf’s Ryder Cup, end not with a bang but a whimper. The moment of victory for the European team came as the US’s out-of-sorts Phil Mickelson dobbed a feeble tee shot into the water at the 16th before conceding the hole and thereby the match.
As a dramatic moment, it may not live long in the memory, but the three days preceding it were a reminder of the thrills, skills and drama that can make live sport such a compelling viewing experience.
That is why the value of TV sports rights keeps going up. In an era of media fragmentation, where audiences can be tempted away from the TV screen by a host of other options, content that manages to attract and retain a live audience is rare, and therefore expensive. But making a return on those rights is tough. Hard core fans will continue to pay, but there is a limit to how many of them will do so.
To grow revenues from sport, broadcasters and rights holders are focusing on how to monetise not just the super-fan but the casual fan, who might not want to watch the full coverage but might want to tune in for those decisive moments.
There is much interest, therefore, in the announcement from the NBA and Turner Broadcasting that US basketball fans will now be able to purchase a single quarter of a game via its streaming service. This makes the NBA the first major US sports provider to offer micro-transactions of this kind, with the quarter-game content set to be priced at under two US dollars. NBA Digital is also developing an option to enable fans to purchase 10 minutes of real-time game access, with details set to be announced in coming months.
It’s an interesting experiment, and could arguably work with other sports – the start of a Grand Prix, the back nine of the Masters, the last 5 overs of a 20/20 match, extra time and penalties of a big Champions League tie.
Many sports realise they need to extend the appeal of their content to a wider audience, though they rightly fear upsetting the core fans. Altering the game play itself – by introducing ad-breaks into football, for example – would likely alienate those already pay the most to watch. Offering a la carte pricing tiered for different audiences is a much less risky proposition.
A frictionless payment experience will be crucial to making this work, as will ensuring the ‘full-fat’ subscription continues to appeal to core fans. By acknowledging that casual fans are most interested in just the certain parts of a game, sports broadcasters may fear they are undermining the value of their property. But they are potentially opening up valuable new revenue streams.
Beyond traditional sports, there are other new opportunities to make money from content, too. Esports, for example, is a hot area whose growth MTM will continue to cover, while WWE has had great success in building a premium sports entertainment brand across multiple platforms and for a range of audiences (40% of whom, interestingly, are female).
Last week also saw an historic announcement that HBO is winding down its coverage of boxing, the sport that, starting with the Foreman-Frazier fight in 1973, enabled HBO to grow into the premium content brand it is today. HBO’s future lies in the kind of high-end drama (Game of Thrones et al) at which it excels, rather than the old-fashioned fight game.
Pay-per-view boxing on TV is not dead, though. It’s being reinvented by the next generation of entrepreneurs. Boxing purists may have winced to see two untalented amateurs huff and puff their way to a six-round draw, but those organising the fight in August between YouTube stars KSI and Logan Paul, won’t have minded too much. As well as the 18,000 who paid to watch it in the stadium in Manchester, a further 800,000 paid £7.50 ($10) to watch a live stream.
So, while broadcasters and sports rights holders will now be considering how to offer short paid-access windows to the key moments, they will also be pondering how to create compelling new sports experiences. A mooted boxing match involving the TV presenter Piers Morgan, for example, would surely be a money spinner. Indeed, the prospect of a livestream of Mr Morgan getting punched repeatedly in the ring could create a different kind of problem – could the UK’s video infrastructure cope with the surge in demand?